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Distancing But Not Distant : Staying Close to Consumers During COVID-19

May 22, 2020

Comms planning can be hard to get right at the best of times but in this period of seismic anxiety and uncertainty getting it right has never mattered more. Just ask Boris Johnson.

Last week we hosted a panel discussion on how to stay close to consumers during this time of social distancing. If only Lee Cain or Dominic Cummings had been on the zoom session, they might have learnt a thing or two.

Something we are helping clients understand is their audiences’ appetite to receive messaging and content from them and, most specifically, what they want to hear and why.

But how do you know? It's easy to freeze in moments like this, afraid to make a wrong move, send a poorly phrased tweet - or a vaguely worded public information slogan - and live to regret it. And it’s just as easy to think ‘we can’t go silent, our competitors aren’t, let's just get out there’.

We have put in place a process which is, truth be told, incredibly simple. It’s to listen. If you want people to pay attention to you and your brand, you need to pay attention to them. Listening to the changing mood and tone of the public is what helps guide our comms strategies.

Never before have comms people enjoyed such a bounty of data and reporting. Not only do we have access to impressive and insightful research tools, but bodies and think tanks in every sector are publishing reports to help us get an insight into how consumers are thinking and behaving - now and in the future.

But all this information is meaningless unless applied and that is why we have developed a detailed mapping model to work out what is useful for a brand to say to answer the need-states of individuals. We call it Audience Appetite Mapping and it really is where any notion of a comms plan should be starting. The method cross examines an audience’s appetite for certain kinds of information against a number of social contexts to give a picture of what are the most appropriate stories to be told.

But just because you have a message to communicate, does that mean you should? We are working with brands across sectors from hospitality to travel, retail and entertainment to ascertain where they sit on a four part journey towards actively going out to the public with messaging. This brand planning model begins with Pausing all activity, to being Poised to react when audience mood changes, to Proactively Planning as appetite grows to finally Pushing Ahead with campaigns and activity because the audience for that brand is now willing to fully engage and connect with the message.

In PR we often hold creativity above all else - and certainly as a former CD running an agency famed for its creative thinking I completely believe that ideas really do matter. But strategy provides the backbone to brilliant creative thinking. Which is why right now is the time to invest in the planning, do the hard work, approach with caution and above all else...listen. That includes you Boris.

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